Relatives of the late Robert C. Henry unwrapped a nice present on his birthday Thursday, July 16.
His family and the city unveiled a street sign honoring the former mayor with a dual naming of Center Street as Robert C. Henry Way from High Street to Perrin Avenue.
Henry was the first black mayor in the country of a city of Springfield’s size.
Seeing the street sign with his name would have delighted him, his wife, Betty Henry, said.
“He was a very down-to-earth man with much to offer ... He would have liked to be remembered as a friend to all,” she said.
He grew up on Center Street and opened a funeral home there. His children — Robert II, Alan and Lisa — now run the business.
He served on a fact-finding commission to Vietnam under President Johnson, then later returned there to inspect nonmilitary activities under President Nixon.
Robert C. Henry died in 1981 at 60. His birthday was July 16 and he would have been 88 years old on Thursday.
He helped anybody he could and never looked for rewards, his son Robert C. Henry II recalled.
“No matter who you were, where you came from, he just loved doing for other people,” his son said.
The change is a dual street naming, so residents and businesses can use either name. The remaining signs will be installed in the next few weeks.
Mayor Warren Copeland said the naming is overdue. Robert C. Henry must have been quite a man to have been selected the nation's first black mayor, Copeland said.
“We in this community may not understand how historic this was,” he said. “People around the country recognized that something had happened.”
City Commissioner Orphus Taylor read a 1968 editorial from The Sun newspaper lauding Henry.
Taylor said it was a great honor to talk at the unveiling about Henry, whom she described as a man of quiet strength and demeanor.
“He transcended race and took all humanity as his province,” she said.
this is a vanity post because this was my grandfather :) the article says he was the first black mayor of a city of a certain size, but, if i recall correctly, he was the first black mayor of a city of ANY size.